Sepp Kuss joined an early breakaway and crossed the top of the first of two climbs first to swipe some big points in the king of the mountain competition at the 2020 Vuelta a España on Tuesday.
The Spanish Vuelta resumed Tuesday after the first rest day Monday. The rest came after a tough Sunday that saw Kuss, a 26-year-old professional road cyclist from Durango, fall from sixth place overall to 23rd while losing 9 minutes, 10 seconds to the lead of overall leader Richard Carapaz, the Colombian rider for the INEOS Grenadiers team.
Sunday’s tough stage was a curveball for the peloton after the route suddenly had to be changed two days before. The riders originally were supposed to finish atop the Col du Tourmalet, the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees range. But COVID-19 restrictions kept the Vuelta from crossing into France and led to a new route.
Sunday saw Jumbo-Visma team leader Primoz Roglic of Slovenia drop out of the leader’s red jersey for the first time since his Stage 1 victory. He dropped back to fourth place, 30 seconds behind Carapaz. Roglic had trouble putting on his rain coat at the bottom of the second to last climb of the day, and the Jumbo-Visma squad was out of position when riders made a break. The team had to work hard to get back into position but paid for the tough effort and didn’t have the legs on the final climb.
Kuss had his big drop a day after Roglic was quoted saying Kuss was capable of winning the Vuelta for himself despite his support rider role for Jumbo-Visma leaders Roglic and Tom Dumoulin going into this year’s Vuelta.
So, Tuesday was a big day for Kuss and Jumbo-Visma to bounce back, and they did so in style.
The route featured two climbs of Puero de Orduña, and Kuss was the first over the top of the first climb to earn 10 king of the mountain points.
Kuss, who wore the king of the mountain polka dot jersey after Stage 1 but quickly surrendered it to Carapaz the next day, moved up three spots Tuesday in the KOM jersey standings. His 24 points are three behind polka dot jersey holder Guillaume Martin of France.
Kuss would finish Tuesday’s 99-mile stage in 15th overall. He was 21 seconds behind stage winner Michael Woods, a Canadian riding for the EF Pro Cycling Team. Woods finished in 3:38:16 to edge Spain’s Omar Fraile, an Astana Pro Team rider, by four seconds. Movistar’s Alejandro Valverde, also of Spain, was third.
“It was a very tough and crazy stage,” Kuss said in a Jumbo-Visma news release. “It turned out much different than we expected. There was lots of jumping and the cooperation was not always good due to the large size of the group.”
Kuss remained in 23rd overall after the stage. Roglic finished the stage in 19th, 56 seconds off the winning time of Woods. Carapaz was 21st in the same time as Roglic to maintain his overall lead.
“The pace was very high from the start,” Roglic said in the news release. “The wind certainly played a big role. It was nice to see how offensive we have raced as a team today. It was a great start to the week for us. We didn’t win the stage, but GC-wise, we have done well with George (Bennett). Hopefully, we can continue this way of racing into the next days.”
Jumbo-Visma rider George Bennett was able to climb three spots in the overall standings to 10th overall. He joined Kuss in the breakaway Tuesday and finished one spot in front of him, 13 seconds behind Woods’ lead time.
“All in all, it was a good situation for us with two riders in the front,” Kuss said. “There was a lot of headwind. For lightweights like George and myself, it is very difficult to win the stage in such circumstances. On the other hand, George is getting closer in the overall standings, which is good with regard to the upcoming mountain stages. With two guys high in the standings, you have several options and cards to play.”
The Jumbo-Visma squad feels good going into a climbing day Wednesday before two brutal days of climbing Saturday and Sunday. Wednesday’s Stage 8 route is 102 miles with a Category 2 climb before the final Category 1 ascent to the finish line on Alto de Moncalvillo.
Thursday’s Stage 9 is one for the sprinters, as is Friday’s Stage 10. Saturday’s Stage 11 is a scary test for Halloween with five categorized climbs with four Category 1, including the massive summit finish of Alto de la Farrapona to conclude a 105.5-mile day.
Kuss has had eyes on Stage 12 since the route was announced for the 18-stage event. It features five more categorized climbs across a 68-mile route, with the beyond categorization climb of famed Alto de l’Angliru capping off the big day. It is likely Kuss will have the opportunity to race for stage wins during the weekend.